July 12th, 2018

7 PM Living Arts Hosts Valery Lyman's Artist Talk

Artist Valery Lyman returns to Tulsa for Fragment and Immersion, where she will share her experiences at an American crossroads in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota from 2013-2017.  Lyman will discuss her vision in expressing this work in such a genre-stretching form which combines analog photographs, oral histories, architectural remains and industrial remnants from the Tulsa area, and touch on her exciting ongoing project of discovery as the exhibit moves to former industrial sites across the country. The event is free to the public.

ARTIST STATEMENT

America’s western region is scattered with the remains of old boom towns, often deserted as quickly as they were settled, in pursuit of the next gold strike, or silver, coal, or lumber, and well preserved by the high desert climate. Rapid expansion and abandonment as a result of industry boom and bust cycles is a recurrent phenomenon in American history, one that has forged our national character and defined our migrations.

I have always been interested in these places - in the hard labor, raucous living, personal sacrifice, loneliness, enormous optimism and great risk that quickly fills them up, and then of course, how the din of voices quiets down, leaving echoes and remnants in its wake, as the caravan of dreams moves on to another time and place.

Lensed through the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota, Breaking Ground is an immersive meditation on this cycle of opportunity and destruction, this tale of dreams sought and abandoned that wends its way through the American psyche and the physical landscape of the country itself.

I have spent the last five years photographing and recording audio in the Bakken region of North Dakota. When I go there I stay in a steel shipping container on a desolate company lot, much like the people I photograph. This work is not about the politics of what is underway in North Dakota, but about the lived experience of those who are a part of it. It seeks to convey the force of the place and the raw humanity I encountered there.

I found something of the American heart and character in North Dakota. In the faces, clothing, physical posture, and in the voices one can feel the optimism and hardscrabble nature of the American spirit. There is an unusual rawness of emotion as most people are strangers in a strange land, and an acute alertness because life is so dangerous. Bodies are rendered small by the vast landscape, machinery and infrastructure, and the tiny living spaces. We see exhaustion, transience, and a grasping for intimacy. The photographs range from stark penetrative portraits in intimate quarters or worksites, to large landscapes that show the scale of the elements and machinery. The photographs are all 35mm film, both b&w and color, making use of the historicity of the medium and blending past with present.

The world of sound is alive with its own feelings and mysteries, and can work upon us as powerfully and directly as does
the image. As so much is conveyed in the nuance of tone, cadence, accent and delivery, it is important to hear people talk not only in their own words, but in their own voices. My audio work in North Dakota is a mix of conversations, interviews and ambient sounds from the area – train sounds, rhythmic oil rigs drilling, bar fights, relentless prairie wind – rising and falling over one another almost like music. In an evocation of density and echo, different sound compositions emanate from multiple points throughout the exhibition area. I want the viewer to have agency and determination in their experience of audio in the same way that they curate their time and pathway through the imagery. The live foreground/background mix of these voices and ambient sounds will be determined in part by the viewer’s body as she or he moves throughout the exhibition space.

I want to collapse past and present into one visceral image, an archetypal landscape wandered by subjects and viewers alike. I want to poke holes in time and inhabit this landscape together. Merging the work and the space transform both in thrilling ways - sensorially and conceptually - as images are stretched and altered texturally across different surfaces. Together these fragments add up to give a sense of many dreams colliding in places like these for a brief moment lived all at once, as well as the echoes and remnants left behind once the era is over. Some bits will inevitably be lost to the cracks, gesturing at the chaos of these worlds and the impossibility of representing them in any complete way.

I want the viewer to feel that she or he is in the midst of a John Steinbeck novel, a Woody Guthrie song, or a Benton painting. And yet this migration is happening now, forced by current economic conditions, and Breaking Ground is a glimpse at what it means to survive in America today.

In this era of acute national division, understanding the experiences of people from other regions is more important than ever. Breaking Ground abhors “fly-over” mentality, and is committed to the idea that the less settled regions of our country and those who people them are worthy subjects and audiences of art, whose narratives deserve to be re-imagined into expressive works. The work is particularly relevant to Tulsa and to Oklahoma because of its own past and current history with oil, as well as with worker migrations, especially of the 1930s.